women

women

Women. When did women begin to appear on a regular basis at sessions, given that many pubs didn’t allow women into the bar, as distinct from the lounge, until the late sixties and early seventies.

Did women have a hard struggle to obtain admission into sessions, and a longer struggle to become accepted.

Given the history of Ireland with regard to women, the presense of ultra conservatives controlling the music, with numerous unwritten rules and elitist attitudes, I think it would be safe to assume from a purely sociological viewpoint, that these "controllers" would have frowned upon women not being in the kitchen to put it mildly.

So how did women break down these barriers and when? I am aware of individual women playing in the ’40s and ’50s, but did the breakthrough come as social attitudes changed in the late ’60s.

I hope you may be able to contribute, as I am genuinely interested in this topic, from a musical and a sociological point of view.

Respectfully and humbly yours,

Bliss.

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I have been absent this week at Trade Union conference, but JfiddlerH has updated me on recent developments on the site this very night, and the poor wee mite is having a rough time. I look forward to his input on this topic, although one so young may not know the answer, which is sad, as the womens’ struggle needs to be highlighted.

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If you really want answers to this, bb, I sugest you either go read some scholarly research on the topic, or do some yourself.

If we seperate for a moment the question of playing music in general from that of pub sessions I think girls will not have received the same encouragement to play in former times, and it will only have been recent "revivalist" or "preservationist" organisations which will have brought this to equality in a changing social climate. I’m sure in some families girls will have been encouraged, in others discouraged. But don’t forget that in many families, boys were not really encouraged to play either.

However, far from being actively discouraged from playing, I suspect that many of the women who did develop their musical abilities stopped voluntarily - either out of necessity (too busy) or a sense of propriety, when they married and had families. Often in "conservative" cultures women regulate themselves on a largely unspoken basis, primarily because they wish to be accepted by other women in their community.

Child rearing, I suspect, may have been the greatest reason why women had little time or interest in playing. I notice, even now, that a lot of young women stop playing music when their children are small. They simply become so caught up in day to day life that it slips down the priority scale into oblivion - if not forever then at least for awhile. And I also notice that as men become much more involved in the whole child rearing thing, the same thing happens to a greater percentage of them. So that in Irish music (as in many other leisure pursuits) the majority of participants are in their teens/early 20s or well over 40. the big difference in current times is that people are healthy long enough to start up again once their kids are well up, and expect to pursue their interests at this time of life.

I really question your concept of ultra conservative controllers being the real force here. A lot of it is down to biology. Of course, in every era there will have been all kinds of exceptions to the social "norm". I am not defending the way society was organised in the past or present - just noticing what motivates people. Now, of course, many more people choose not the have kids, have them later or pursue their interests while they have them. Both contraception and increased prosperity give us choices previous generations lacked.

It’s very easy to judge cultural norms as unfair (and sometimes they really are, of course) but we often forget the role of necessity in all this.

(By the way, I am female, for those of you who haven’t caught on.)

Posted by .

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Just to add one other thing. One reason for not encouraging girls to play music, or pursue other interests, in the past was that as they would likely have to give these interests up when the had children, it was actually kinder. I don’t happen to agree, but I can see how parents may have felt this way.

Posted by .

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Kris has more or less got things right. Women’s place in traditional music was determined by much the same cultural norms which would restrict or discourage their activities in other areas.

However, I’d suggest that we shouldn’t generalise here. Women have always been involved in music including traditional. I’m speaking about Scotland here but it was very common for them to sing songs etc at work; eg Gaelic waulking songs in The Hebrides, in the Jute factories in cities like Dundee (Mary Brooksbank sang and played fiddle) and there was also the Travelling People’s stories and songs. Not mention the fish wives in the coastal areas and the music ans song of the farmer’s bothies.

I agree that they weren’t encouraged to take traditional music up as a career but, as Kris points out, neither was anyone else. The Scottish (and presumably Irish and British also) pub culture discouraged women but they have been frequenting pubs fairly regulary since the sixties, although it’s only recently we’ve had this "ladette" culture.

As I recall, women have always been involved in the folk music scene but they tended to be mainly singers or singer/guitarists but there were always those who played accordian, fiddle etc too. It’s true that they weren’t always taken seriously and I remember when "Sprangeen" (including Mary and Patsy now of the Poozies) first formed in the early eighties. It was quite a novelty then to have a band comprised of women musicians. It wouldn’t be now.
Many of the male musicians adopted quite a chauvinistic attitude at the time but they had to concede that the women were as at least as good—if not better than they were.

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There’s also a big tradition of mothers who took up the music before marriage teaching their kids to play- especially in isolated areas. Not having any memory of time before the 80s ;), I wouldn’t know, but I suspect that the emphasis was more on men to play *publicly* than on women, if only because of the social settings of wherever music happened to be played.

Plus, most instruments are expensive, so a lot of time they might be allocated to, say, the oldest son, even if another child, probably especially a girl, had more interest in playing, if only because it was deemed a sort of inheritance-thing; my grandpa’s family had one fiddle, that got put away in a closet when my oldest granduncle went away to England, and stayed there, because of propriety and worries that the younger kids might break it, i guess, until it fell apart from dryrot.
They only discovered the decay when they pulled it out for some fiddler who was passing through Arigna to play.

But hey, my grandpa’s loss wasn’t all bad - I was very much *encouraged* to play 🙂

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When did people like Julia Clifford become recognised as musicians in their own right? She was playing in sessions in 1963, according to Pete Cooper.

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I think women who ran bars played in them. Some became known in their own right the early fifties. Examples are Mrs Kethleen Morris, born in the 1920s who well enough known to be recorded by Radio Eireann in 1952. She ran a bar in Boyle which was a music venue, though I don’t know exactly when.

Also Mrs Elizabeth Crotty, born 1885, who played concertina and was the landady of Crotty’s Pub in Kilrush.( See the review at http://www.mustrad.org.uk/reviews/crotty.htm)

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_at the irish wedding of a musician friend of ours, the night Brendan Ring composed ‘Tyrell’s Pass’ _first track on his ‘Troublesome Things’ (2001), a great little wooden flute player, Cathy, was either doing or hoping to do, a PhD on this very subject

i’ll chase it up …

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BB- it’s an interesting question, but there seems to be an implicit assumption, that sessions are as they have always been. Is this the case? Is there any serious study of the habit of playing Irish dance music in public (or semi-public, house gatherings and the like might be admitted) without dancers or audience?
This would seem to be a relevant piece of your question. We know that women have been playing and singing this music for a fairly long time, the question is what the contexts for their playing were, as opposed to the contexts for male playing, and whether and how they overlapped.
****Warning: gross generalization ahead:
Historically, music for fun (as opposed to work songs) has been gendered based on whether the entertainment is amateur or professional. When music is played in the drawing room for the family and friends, it’s traditionally a female activity. When it becomes professionalized, it’s a male thing. Similarly, chefs in restaurants are typically male (even today, and more exclusively as you go back), while cooking for the family is still typically a femal activity. This might or might not be relevant, but it’s worth throwing into the mix on this question.

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very daring Jon, fair play to you for throwing it out like this …

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Irish music would have been in the kitchen originally. neighbours called round to one house, to hold a "ceilidh". I believe that to be the original meaning of that word, where they would smoke pipes, drink, play music and dance. I think the women were there mostly to provide sustenance for the men, and as dancing partners.

For interest sake, how many women play at the session any of the people on this site attend. It would be interesting to have a percentage.

As a starter, ours is none. That’s 0% so far.

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Probably equal numbers (around 5%) of gifted musicians, intermediate and beginners.
(Sweeping generalisation here) I have been to sessions where wimmin have dominated and they tend to degenerate into a creche, with no hope of any music-making.

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Are women playing now? It depends where the session is, how long it has been going and who else goes. In the north-west of England I attend one regular session which is about 15% women and another which is about 25% women. There are a lot of women playing in the north-east of England and there are usually more if you are around a University, so you might get as many as 30%.

In the rougher pubs in city centres the percentage of women drops. You can often see men trying to peer into a rough pub to see who is inside before they venture in with their instrument.

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Our session was almost exclusively male up until the last 3 years or so. Part of that was the lack of women in this area who played ITM. But some women (like my wife) started showing up more and more, and now it is rare to go to a session that is just the guys.
It does change the dynamic a bit (and some of the jokes that get told). In some ways this is better—for example, the amount of overly heavy drinking has decreased, although I am not sure the presence of the ladies is the sole reason this has occurred.
We also get youngsters at the sessions, which also changes the dynamic, as everyone really "cleans up their act."

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About 5% at my local session - mostly whistle and fiddle players.

Jim

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About 20% at one of the sessions I attend, about 50% at the other. The first one varies, having a large and very fluctuating attendance. The second was founded by several couples where both play, and generally both attend; its turnout is more steady.

I suspect the point about differentiating between pub sessions and house ceilidhs is important. Certainly I have heard a number of anecdotes about house ceilidhs where women played fiddle, even if not other instruments, and these stories dated to before WWII. (On the other hand these anecdotes might not be representational.)

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There are a decent amount of women at our larger session, but not a whole lot…a couple fiddlers (both of who have husbands who play too), a few singer/guitarists, and me (on whistle)…random other women show up from time to time too. At the smaller closed session I go to, I’m often the only woman…though we have a singer/guitarist who shows up when we can get her there. Don’t ask me for percentages! I haven’t got a clue!

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In Scotland, there are loads of women musicians performing in gigs and at sessions. What’s more, most of them are better than us!

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Ah well now …… When I were a lad ….

Seriously - when I was starting out in sessions the women were few and far between - Tara Bingham [now Diamond], Maighréad Ní Mhaonaigh, Deirdre Shannon, Jeannie Mc Grath, Josephine Keegan, .. and I struggle to think of many others in the Belfast/Antrim/Down/Donegal area.

Now the boot is on the other foot - the majority of the kids coming to the tradition now around our area are girls. If I were a teenage lad now I would be getting my flute out and away down to the comhaltas like a lilty 😉

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At Mary Bergin’s workshop in London last year(Return to Camden), 9 were female 8 were fellas. This is not counting the female Tutor! and yes I agree it’s not a session.
But as a fella I think it’s great playing music with others who enjoy it-and if they’re ladies that’s grand.
Peter
London

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n my area (Bristol, England) most sessions seem to be more or less evenly divided most of the time between men and women, but with a possible bias to women (how’s that for waffle!). In set dancing, on the other hand, so my wife tells me, there is a tendency for a preponderance of the ladies, so some ladies have to dance as men.
However, in regular instrumental workshops such as the fortnightly Hibernia workshop in Avonmouth (Bristol), there are definitely more females than males.

Trevor